By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Emily Blunt, John Krasinski and Millicent Simmonds
Directed by John Krasinski
Written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski
Who would have thought that two of the best and most interesting horror films of the 2010s would be directed by Jordan Peele and John Krasinski? A QUIET PLACE is the third feature Krasinski has helmed, after two in the comedy genre he has also specialized in as an actor, and the confidence and commitment he brings to it makes it feel like the scary movie he’s wanted to make his entire career.
As it happens, A QUIET PLACE began as a script by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, and they and Krasinski have come up with a variation on the postapocalyptic-terror genre that is as frightening as it is moving—and that’s plenty. It opens with a scene familiar from THE WALKING DEAD and many similar projects: A family, apparently the only living people in their part of the country, searches an abandoned, trashed store for medicine and other supplies. The difference is that nobody talks (which gives this a leg up on the last couple of seasons of WALKING DEAD), and everybody goes barefoot, walking outside on sand trails they’ve laid down to further muffle their steps. There’s something dangerous and sound-sensitive out in the woods, and Krasinski establishes swiftly and decisively how perilous the family’s situation is.
The Abbotts, we soon discover, live on a rural farm (shot on picturesque upstate-New York locations) where they’ve adapted to a world in which they can’t make any noise. Parents Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and Lee (Krasinski) communicate with their daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and son Marcus (Noah Jupe) via sign language. Regan is deaf—as is Simmonds herself, a remarkable young actress who debuted in last year’s WONDERSTRUCK—and we get the feeling the Abbotts’ experience with wordless communication helped them survive when all around them fell victim to the deadly threat. That’s one of the many facets of A QUIET PLACE that Krasinski communicates through suggestion rather than exposition; the premise lends itself to showing, not telling, and the director gradually reveals the specifics of the Abbotts’ situation in visual ways the keep the audience thoroughly engrossed.
Perhaps only an actor-turned-director could have done so well with a movie that, in very large part, is attuned to expressiveness of performance rather than dialogue. He and real-life wife Blunt—who have two children themselves—are excellent as parents whose every day is devoted to protecting and providing for Regan and Marcus under constant threat. Simmonds as Regan, who has started to chafe against the absolutely necessary restrictions, and Jupe as Marcus, who is young enough to still not have acclimated to their fearful situation, are just as good, and the quartet create a family unit who are as strong a center as any cinematic characters in recent memory.
While their interactions are compelling enough, Krasinski doesn’t skimp on the serious scares. This is the movie a lot of audiences probably thought they were going to get last year with IT COMES AT NIGHT; the intense family drama is complemented and amplified by Krasinski’s dread-building, heart-pounding escalation of the threat against the Abbotts. The specifics of the menace hanging over their lives won’t be revealed here, but suffice to say that when it comes out to play, it is realized so convincingly (kudos to veteran production designer Jeffrey Beecroft, visual effects supervisors Mark Hawker and Rick O’Connor and the wizards at Industrial Light and Magic) that we share the Abbotts’ fear of them at every turn.
Produced by Michael Bay and the Platinum Dunes team, previously responsible for remaking a surfeit of ’70s/’80s fright classics with varying levels of success, A QUIET PLACE is a best-case scenario of original modern horror filmmaking. (The one small sign of Bay excess: Marco Beltrami’s score, which in general is crucial to the movie’s tense, teasing mood, lays the jump-scare stingers on a little thick.) It applies the best craftsmanship studio money can buy—Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography is also key to the perfectly modulated mood—to a simple, harrowing story rooted in concern for its people, which is always key to delivering the fear factor. From its grabber of an opening to its final moment, which is somewhat out of tonal character from the rest of the movie yet thoroughly satisfying, A QUIET PLACE announces Krasinski as an unexpected and exceptional genre talent.